However, the year 1882 would become a turning point in our nation's history with the passage of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited immigration based on race and ethnicity. The next four decades would continue to affect the country's perception of immigration and would culminate with the passage of the National Origins Act in 1924. Our national views and policies towards immigration continue to be shaped by the nationalism, fears, and nativism that were spawned in California over a century ago.
By the middle of the 19th century the residents of California were openly expressing their resistance to Chinese immigrants and these feelings were being exhibited through worker demonstrations and violent outrages. Advocates of the open door policy clashed with anti-immigrant forces over immigration policy for one of the first times in our nation's history. The working men in California had begun to believe that the immigrant Chinese were taking jobs from them and suppressing wages. By 1876, the Chinese were working in gold mines, manufacturing, and in agriculture. A New York Times article of the era contends that, "In all these vocations, as a rule, they [the Chinese] work for lower wages than are usually paid to white men."1 The outward displays of discrimination against the Chinese workers would often force them out of the white dominated workplace and into lower paid occupations. Because there was a shortage of women in California at this time the Chinese men often turned to becoming domestic servants, cooks, housekeepers, or laundry attendants.2 This forced the Chinese workers into the lower wage positions and fulfilled the perception that they were willing to work for less money.
The Chinese were also the subject of intense racism in the press and in the public debates over the employment issue. These emotions prompted the federal government to consider passing the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would ban Chinese immigration and prevent Chinese workers from attaining citizenship. A newspaper of the era argued that the white worker should "be excused if he is impatient with the competition of a laborer who lives on the cheapest food, lives in a dry goods box, has no more interest in the State than a bird of the air, and returns to his own land as soon as he accumulates a little money."3 Though these were the prevailing attitudes toward the Chinese, there was a small oppositional viewpoint. As the Chinese Exclusion Act was being debated nationally, the merchants and businessmen warned of taking such extreme action aimed at a single country and race. Their interest was in increasing trade with China that was just beginning to open up to American products. The merchants warned, "The Chinese government would be perfectly justified in retaliating upon us, if we commit such a base act of international treachery as that contemplated by this act."4 The issue that had begun as a labor dispute in California had risen to the level of a national debate as Congress considered the Act.
In the emotionally charged political debate, the voice of reason and truth was often obscured by the polarization of emotions. Professor Wells Williams of Yale College, a leading Social Scientist of the period, published a paper in 1879 after studying Chinese immigrati